Oscar Sunday is my favorite day of the year. It’s the culmination of months spent experiencing and absorbing the very best of filmmaking. Every year, I drown myself in movies throughout the fall and early winter, and by the time the Oscars roll around, I’ve seen every nominated film and performance in the Academy’s premier categories—actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, director, adapted screenplay, original screenplay and picture. The anticipation I feel on an Oscar morning matches the excitement I felt as a child on Christmas morning. Although I sometimes suffer disappointment when the winners are announced, I understand art is subjective and can always reconcile disappointing outcomes. However, it’s now been eight days since the 94th Academy Awards and my emotions are still stirring about a few things that transpired that evening.
In the weeks leading up to this year’s Oscar ceremony, I was feeling a bit forlorn. My favorite film of the year, C’mon C’mon, was snubbed by the Academy, receiving zero nominations, and my choice for best picture (Belfast) was out of contention behind front-runners The Power of the Dog and CODA—two of my least favorite films of the year. Nonetheless, I tuned into the broadcast with my usual excitement and anticipation. Things started off nicely, Beyoncé opened the show with a colorful performance of her Oscar–nominated song, “Be Alive,” the trio of hosts were refreshing and funny, and the fashion was on–point. When it came time to open the 11th envelope of the evening, I was elated to hear the name Kenneth Branagh for his original screenplay, Belfast. His film transfixes and the script coalesces like a piece of exquisite poetry. Moments after Branagh left the stage, the award for adapted screenplay was announced and Sian Heder accepted her Oscar for CODA. My heart sunk. CODA was now a shoo-in for best picture.
I could have rationalized top wins for The Power of the Dog because it is a work of high art; it’s just not the type of art I enjoy. CODA, on the other hand, is nowhere near Oscar caliber. The screenplay is lame and fraught with contrivance, much of the acting is forced, and the script’s desperate attempts at comedy are annoying and, at times, off-putting.
The success of CODA is being hailed as “a win for the disabled community,” but I’m not feeling any joys of triumph. In fact, I feel let down. People with disabilities are oftentimes de-sexualized in television and movies. CODA attempts to flip that narrative, but the effort is blatant and imposing. The married couple is unwilling to abstain from intercourse long enough to resolve a minor medical condition, and one of their rowdy midday romps disrupts their daughter’s afternoon study date. Heder had a prime opportunity to showcase natural, passionate lovemaking between two disabled people, but instead, she uses the couple’s sex life as a recurring punchline. The film is a glorified after school special. It should have aired on the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime network. Awarding it best adapted screenplay and best picture is an affront to the sanctity of the Academy Awards. It resonates with me as mercy wins.
Of course, the award winners are hardly even remembered as part of the ceremony last Sunday. In Hollywood, March 27, 2022 will forever be remembered as the day Will Smith bitch slapped Chris Rock on the Oscar stage.
The primary emotion I feel about the incident is sadness. A brash comedian landed a sick joke, causing a raging narcissist to make one of the worst decisions of his life. As I watched and re-watched Smith’s rousing ovation for his best actor win, I was shrouded in disillusionment. Do the residents of Tinseltown have such pride for themselves they can’t hold one another accountable for gross indignities? Now, a formal probe has been launched to investigate misconduct, which will keep the story alive when all I want to do is forget. My reverence for the Academy Awards is waning a bit; I’m desperate to move past the profound disappointments of my Oscar Sunday.